So Far from the Bamboo Grove
by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2011
So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
So Far From the Bamboo Grove tells the story of an 11 year old Japanese girl, Yoko Kawashima, who had lived in Nanam in North Korea all her life; in fact, she had never even seen her homeland Japan.
But now, towards the end of the war, Yoko, her mother and older sister Ko are warned by a friend, Corporal Matsumura, that things are not going well and they must try to return to Japan immediately. With Mr. Kawashima, a Japanese diplomat, away in Manchuria, China, and their 18 year old brother Hideyo working elsewhere, Yoko, Ko and their mother leave their home in the middle of the night, taking only what they could carrying. The corporal had been able to secure them places on a hospital train bound for Seoul, where they hoped to find passage on a ship to Japan.
Hideyo had wanted to join the Japanese army when he learned that the war was no longer going well for them. But he is rejected by the army and placed in a factory in another part of Korea to make munitions for the Japanese army. When the war ends, he also finds it necessary to flee and the book is split between the difficulties he meets on his journey with that of the Kawashima women.
The women are able to board the train to Seoul using a letter from Corporal Matsumura, but when the train is bombed 45 miles away from that city, they are forced to walk the rest of the way. Not long after they start walking, the women are stopped by three armed Korean Communist Army soldiers. But when planes fly over and bomb the area they are in, the soldiers are killed. The women take their uniforms, and because they speak fluent Korean, pass themselves off as Koreans for much of their journey. However, the bombs left Yoko with a painfully injured chest.
Eventually, the women make it to Seoul, where Yoko was fortunate enough to have her chest taken care of at the makeshift Japanese hospital. Ko minds their place in a train station, and must constantly scrounge around for food, while Yoko and her mother remain at the hospital. When Yoko is able to travel, once again manage to get places on a train, this time to Pusan, where they must await passage on a ship to Japan. But when Yoko arrives in Japan, it is not the beautiful, comforting, welcoming place she had always dreamt it would be. Japan is now a defeated country, reeling from the two atomic bombs that had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is little food and great destruction, and no welcome for the new influx of refugees returning home. Once again, they find themselves living in a train station and scrounging in the garbage of others for food to survive.
So Far from the Bamboo Grove is a compelling, well-written story, detailing how the Kawashima women survive by their wits and much luck. It is a coming of age story, in which Yoko goes from a whining, complaining 11 year old to stronger, and more mature 12 year old girl.
Unfortunately, it is a story not without some controversy. While most people like the book, it has created quite a bit of resentment among Koreans and Korean Americans, who feel that the atrocities committed in Korea during the Japanese occupation was basically ignored and that some of the facts in the book are distorted. Koreans were portrayed as rather barbaric, and there is even the intimation of a Japanese woman being raped by a Korean man. Because of this, in 2006, the book was removed from the reading list for 6th graders at the Dover-Sherborn Middle School in Massachusetts, but was later out back on it. The school decided to find other books that would give the story of Japan occupation in Korea some balance. Which reminded me of When My Name was Keoko. Both books are based on the true experiences of young girls who lived through the war in Korea. Their stories are very different, but read in tandem, the two books do offer a more balanced historical context on this controversial time and that is how I would recommend reading them.
This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.
An extensive study guide for So Far from the Bamboo Grove is available at The Glencoe Literature Library.
A concept analysis guide is available from novelinks.org
Ironically, Yoko Kawashima Watkins received The Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abby in Sherborn, Massachusetts, despite the controversy surrounding her story.
So Far From the Bamboo Grove
Yoko Kawashima Watkins
So Far From the Bamboo Grove
So Far From the Bamboo Grove is a true story about Yoko Kawashima Watkins when she was an eleven-year-old girl, who had to flee Korea with her mother and older sister because the Koreans resented the Japanese. Yoko and her family were Japanese living in northern Korea. Yoko's father was a Japanese government official working in Manchuria, near the border of northern Korean. Japan had taken over Korea and ruled it as their own. The Korean people wanted their country back and hated the Japanese for occupying their country for many years. So the Japanese in Korea were in terrible danger.
Now Japanese-occupied Korea was threatened by World Was II. The Russians, who had outposts close to the Korean border, might at any time join their allies, the United States and England, in the war against Japan. Yoko and her family's journey was very hard and life threatening.
This all happened midnight on July 29, 1945. A family friend, Corporal Matsumura, came over and told Yoko's family to get out fast because the Russians were landing. He also told them that the Russians would be looking for them especially because of their father's work for Japanese interest in Manchuria. Corporal Matsumura had arranged with the stationmaster for them to get on a hospital train leaving for Seoul, Korea. I think it was admirable of Corporal Matsumura to go to the Kawashima's house and let them know that the Russians were landing and for him to arrange for them to get on the train. He probably saved their lives. When they arrived at the train station, they got onto a train car filled with sick and injured people. There was little room. They had been traveling for a couple of hours when the train stopped. The Korean Communist Army was inspecting the cars. The Communist soldiers were searching for the Kawashimas because of the father's work for the Japanese government. After that ordeal with the Communist Army, Yoko just wanted to get to Seoul as soon as possible. The train went on its way again. The train was moving then it came to a sudden jerk. The first two rail cars had been blown up. The nurse and medic that were in Yoko's car got off to move patients back to her car. The war planes were not supposed to hit hospital trains, which was the law. Yoko's mother asked the medic how far it was to Seoul. The medic told her it would be a lot safer if they walked, because someone might betray them. So Yoko, her sister, and mother got down from the car and started heading toward Seoul. If I were Yoko, I wouldn't have wanted to walk when I could ride a train, but if it kept me and my family safe then it was a good idea to walk.
To be safe, the Kawashimas walked during the night. They kept walking until daylight. When it got light, they tried to sleep. They could hear planes fly over head. If I heard war planes flying over my head while I tried to sleep, I would be extremely scared and wouldn't be able to sleep. But I would know that I have to sleep to get my rest in order to be able to walk. When they were just about to fall asleep, harsh voices told them to stand up and don't move. Korean Communist soldiers were standing in front of them. The soldiers told Yoko and her family to give them their belongings. However, when the soldiers were about to take their belongings, a plane had dropped a bomb. Well-trained Yoko and her family dropped to the ground. When they arose from the ground, the soldiers were dead. I think they were lucky that the soldiers were not as well trained or as smart as Yoko's family. Yoko couldn't hear in her right ear and she couldn't breath. A piece of bombshell hit Yoko in the chest. Quickly she fell back to sleep. When she woke up, she was weak. She still couldn't hear. Her mother and sister were wearing the Communist uniforms. Her sister's head had been shaved. Yoko's mother told her that they had to do this for protection from the Koreans. So her mother made Yoko change into a Communist uniform and shave her head. I think her mother was smart to think of this idea and probably saved their lives dressing this way.
They started to walk again. They had been walking the railroad tracks for eleven days. When it was dark again, they decided to rest. While Yoko's sister was trying to find a stream, she came across a field of corn and tomatoes. She was picking when a farmer caught her. The sister told the farmer that she was Korean because she knew the farmer hated the Japanese. They had not eaten fresh food for days. After they had walked a few hours to get back to their railroad path, they saw people coming. Yoko's mother asked people where they were going. They told her that the brown roof in the distance was Seoul. Finally Yoko and her family had made it. I'm sure Yoko and her family were so proud of themselves and relieved that they made it to Seoul from Nanam, where they started from. They had to go through a search line. The police officers asked Yoko's mother why they were wearing Communist uniforms. She told them for protection. The police officers told her that the war had ended, but not to go back because the Japanese were in danger in Korea.
Yoko's mother had found tents with large red crosses on [next page]
on them. She wanted to get Yoko's wounds treated. The doctor told Yoko's mother that Yoko's chest was badly infected and that a piece of medal had flew into her ear and had punctured the ear drum. The doctor treated it and then let Yoko sleep. The doctor told Yoko's mother that all patients will leave for Pusan, Korea, by truck by the end of the month. From there, a hospital ship will be going to Japan. So they went to Pusan and then got on the hospital ship leaving for Japan. I'm glad they made it to their home land after their ordeal.
Since Kyoto, Japan, was the only town that escaped the bombing, that was where Yoko and her family would go. It took them three days to get to Kyoto. Since they had no house or anywhere else to go, they had to sleep at the train station. Life was probably very hard for them living in a train station. It was freezing cold, no place to lie down, and no privacy. But at least they were safe.
A few months have passed and they still couldn't afford a house or a decent meal. They had to look in garbage cans for food. One day when Yoko came home from school, she found her mother dead. She was devastated. It must have been really sad for Yoko and her sister when their mother died. Now they had no one else, except each other. Since they had no money for a burial, they took their mother to a crematorium. When they got back to the station, all they did was sit. Until this lady, Mrs. Masuda, told them that she had noticed them at the train station when she went to work. Mrs. Masuda told them that she had a vacant factory that had a little room upstairs that they could use. No charge. Mrs. Masuda must have been a caring and compassionate person, offering them a place to live, at no charge, and she didn't even know them. She just saw two sad girls all alone and wanted to help them. They accepted her offer. There were old straw mats for beds in the little room. They had a better life than they did at the station. Yoko's sister found out that their mother had money hid away in her wrapping cloth, which she had brought from Korea. That is why she always took it with her. They were lucky nobody had stolen it. Now they had money for food.
I really admire Yoko and her sister. Here they were, just two young girls all alone, but yet they were able to survive. They did so by finding work and making things to sell. They were not reunited with their father until after he was released from prison camp in Siberia [next page]
Siberia six years later.
This book was interesting because it was a true story. It took me only four days to read it because I didn't want to put it down. I like reading books about wars and history. It was also interesting to learn why the Koreans, even to this day, have this resentment against the Japanese. It also helps me to understand why my grandparents from China also had resentments against the Japanese.
The Novel in Focus
The plot. Although they are Japanese, Hideyo, Ko, and Yoko Kawashima live with their mother in the northern Korean city of Nanam because their father works as an official in nearby Manchuria. In 1945 reports from Japan forecast its imminent defeat in the war. Tokyo has been bombed and the Japanese army has been decimated. Eager to serve his country, Hideyo, the teenage boy, enlists to work in a munitions factory.
The Japanese schoolgirls are asked to dance for disabled soldiers. Yoko feels frightened by these men, one of whom has lost both arms and both legs, but Ko, her older sister, is bold enough to talk with them. Yoko is taken to see Corporal Matsumura, a patient whose entire face is bandaged. He cannot watch her dance, but they strike up a friendship and he later visits the Kawashima family. "You've made a remarkable recovery," Hideyo comments, and Matsumura explains, "meeting your sisters made me want to get well" (Watkins, So Far from the Bamboo Grove, p. 15).
One night Yoko is startled awake by someone pounding on the door. Matsumura has come to warn the Kawashima family to flee. "The Russians are landing," he exclaims, "They will be looking especially for you and your family … because of your husband's work for Japanese interests in Manchuria" (So Far from the Bamboo Grove, p. 21). The family must flee Nanam without Hideyo, who spends the week at the munitions factory and has not yet returned. They leave a note telling him to meet them in Seoul.
At the train station they board a crowded freight car for Seoul. One woman cradles her dead infant, and another, who is pregnant, gives birth to her child on the long journey. The train is stopped by Korean communists searching for the Kawashima family and other political fugitives. A nurse rubs blood from stained clothing across Ko and her mother and gives Yoko a blood-soaked blouse to wear. When the communist officers peer into the car, the nurse explains that there are no fugitives on board, only the wounded. Pointing to Yoko's mother, the nurse warns, "she has smallpox. Stay away from her" (So Far from the Bamboo Grove, p. 38). The officers leave.
That evening the train is hit by a bomb and the refugees must continue on foot. After days of trekking along the railroad route, they arrive in Seoul, where they learn that Japan has surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. Ko, Yoko, and their mother board a train to Pusan, hoping to find space on one of the ships carrying refugees back to Japan.
Crowded into an old warehouse near the harbor, the thousands of refugees fight among themselves for scraps of food salvaged from garbage cans. Korean men loiter around the harbor, snatching Japanese girls and raping them. Fearful of reprisal, the other Japanese hesitate to interfere. Ko and Yoko shave their heads, and Ko wraps cloth tightly around her chest to flatten her breasts. After days of waiting, the three find places on one of the ships.
Arriving in Japan, the girls and their mother are devastated to see the scorched fields and crumbling buildings. Although they want to stay in the port city of Fukuoka and wait for Hideyo, the police inform them that they must leave the overcrowded shelters there to make room for incoming refugees. They go north to Kyoto, where Ko and Yoko enroll in school. Leaving them there, their mother journeys north to find her parents. She returns a few days later, sick and defeated. "Everything's gone," she mumbles to Yoko. "My parents and your father's parents were all killed in the July bombing" (So Far from the Bamboo Grove, p. 121).
Their mother dies, and Ko and Yoko find lodging in a shoe warehouse and continue to attend school. Their dress consists of tattered rags, which prompts the other students to tease and belittle the two girls. Ko ignores them and applies herself to her work, using her newly learned home economics skills to sew dolls from discarded cloth that she then sells to buy food. Yoko helps by collecting empty bottles and cans from the trash, which can be sold in the street. The two journey to a refugee center in the port city of Maizuru to vend their wares and to search for Hideyo. Once there, they tack up dozens of notes to Hideyo, telling him they are now living in Kyoto.
Yoko writes a story about the snobbish girls in her class and wins first prize in an essay contest. She and her sister are elated. With the 10,000 yen (about $30), they will be able to buy food for weeks. Yoko grows even more delighted when she receives a letter from Corporal Matsumura, who was in Kyoto on business and read in the paper about Yoko's prize-winning story. Matsumura visits Yoko at her school and explains that he returned from Korea to inherit his father's silk thread business in his hometown of Morioka. He cannot stay long in Kyoto, so he leaves Yoko his address in Morioka, making her promise to wire him collect if she needs anything.
One day Yoko sees an unkempt man dressed in Korean clothing lingering in the streets near the warehouse. Thinking that he is a Korean who may be unfamiliar with the city, she goes to help him. As she nears the stranger and he calls to her in Japanese, she suddenly recognizes him as her brother, Hideyo.
On the day that Ko, Yoko, and their mother had fled, the munitions factory where Hideyo worked had been attacked by Korean communists. Hideyo and three of his friends had managed to flee into the forest, borrow some civilian clothing, and embark on their journeys.
After almost two months together, Hideyo and his three friends parted ways. Surviving on wild mushrooms and food stolen from nearby farms, Hideyo wandered south toward Seoul for months. The days grew colder and snow blanketed the forest floor. With the help of a kind Korean family, Hideyo escaped across the thirty-eighth parallel into American-occupied southern Korea.
Arriving in Seoul, Hideyo found no sign of his mother or two sisters. Fearing that they did not survive the journey from the North, he continued to Pusan and boarded one of the refugee ships to Japan. In Maizuru he read one of the many notes his sisters left him. Immediately he came to Kyoto to find them.
Flight from the North. Yoko's mother fled with her children to Seoul, hoping only to return to Japan by way of Pusan, one of the largest port cities in Korea's south. Although she feared that the Korean communists, along with the Russians, might terrorize the Japanese in the North, she could not have known that soon the South was to become-in comparison to the North-a haven for the Japanese refugees. It was only after she and her daughters left the North in the summer of 1945 that the majority of Japanese began to understand that the Russian troops in this region would offer them little protection from the ravages of vengeful Koreans.
When Hideyo learned of Japan's defeat and the subsequent partition of Korea, he realized that his best chance for survival was to escape southward across the thirty-eighth parallel. He knew that, because "American soldiers controlled southern Korea, … he would be safer once he crossed [the parallel]" (So Far from the Bamboo Grove, p. 167). For Hideyo and many other Japanese refugees, the dreadful ordeal lay not simply in trying to escape Korea, but also in trying to escape from the Russian-occupied North to the American-occupied South.
It would, however, be naive to imagine that the American troops in the South protected all Japanese refugees from retaliating Koreans. As the novel relates, Korean men raped Japanese girls waiting among crowds of refugees for passage from Korea to Japan. The refugees were often too fearful to protect themselves or each other. Whereas Yoko and Ko shaved their heads and dressed as boys to deceive Korean men, more desperate girls killed themselves.
Sources. By the time Yoko's father returned to Japan, after serving a six-year prison sentence in Siberia, Yoko had learned English and found employment as a typist and translator at an American air force base. In 1953 she met and married an American pilot, Donald Watkins. In 1958 the two moved to the United States, where they raised four children and adopted two Taiwanese orphans.
In 1976, after waiting thirty years, Yoko Kawashima Watkins interviewed her brother about his flight from northern Korea. Reliving the anguish of her childhood was no doubt difficult for Watkins, for it was not until ten years later that she finished the novel detailing their escape from Korea.
A novel set in Korea and Japan at the end of the Second World War; published in 1986.
by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
The family of a Japanese official is driven from northern Korea by vindictive Koreans. Forced to leave her son behind, the mother flees with her two daughters to the southern Korean city of Seoul, and then to Japan, where the mother dies, leaving her daughters to fend for themselves.
Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written
The Novel in Focus
Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place
Yoko Kawashima Watkins was born in 1934 in the Japanese-occupied Chinese province of Manchuria. She then spent the first eleven years of her childhood in the northern Korean city of Nanam, where her father worked as a Japanese government official. In 1945, as it became clear that Japan was losing the war against the Allies, angry Koreans sought vengeance against Japanese residents living in their country for decades of Japanese oppression. Yoko fled with her mother and sixteen-year-old sister to Japan. After several months, Yoko's brother arrived there safely too. In 1976 Yoko first questioned her brother about his trek from Nanam all the way to Seoul. He died within weeks of recounting his tale, and it wasn't until 1986 that his sister finished So Far from the Bamboo Grove, the story of their escape from Korea.
For More Information
A New Era in Korea-Japan Relations. Seoul: Korean Overseas Information Service, 1984.
Gordon, Andrew. Postwar Japan as History. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.
Kim, Eugene. Korea's Response to Japan: The Colonial Period, 1910-1945. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Center for Korean Studies, 1977.
Lee, Chong-Sik. Japan and Korea: The Political Dimension. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1985.
Mc Williams, Wayne. Homeward Bound: Repatriation of Japanese from Korea after World War II. Hong Kong: Asian Research Service, 1988.
Mooney, Martha, ed. Book Review Digest. Vol. 83. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1988.
Nahm, Andrew. Korea under Japanese Colonial Rule. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Center for Korean Studies, 1973.
Watkins, Yoko Kawashima. So Far from the Bamboo Grove. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1986.
Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written
Postwar problems: Japan and the Koreas. Yoko Kawashima Watkins worked on So Far from the Bamboo Grove in the years 1975-86, a period that saw several major developments in the triangular Japanese-North Korean-South Korean political relationship. After World War II, when Japan finally released its thirty-six-year chokehold on Korea, hostilities between the two peoples did not cease. Japan initially had tense relations with both communist North Korea and the American-backed South Korea for several reasons.
As many as 2 million Koreans had been forcibly taken to Japan during the war to work as laborers; in the early 1980s up to 700,000 Koreans were still living there, a great many of them in a strange legal limbo in which they were neither citizens nor foreigners and were subject to fingerprinting and overt discrimination at school and work. Their plight was an outrage to the Koreans, North and South. Moreover, many of the Korean residents of Japan were sympathetic to communist North Korea, which strained relations between South Korea and Japan. In fact, the postwar diplomatic relationship between Japan and South Korea was frosty for decades, as the following news item indicates:
Last May  a nationwide Japanese poll placed South Korea third on a "most hated nation" list, after the Soviet Union and North Korea: one of five Japanese admitted to detesting all things South Korean. A similar survey conducted in Seoul several years ago was hushed up by the [South Korean] government because, as a Cabinet minister recalls, the result was "so terrible vis-à-vis Japan."
(New Era, p. 65)
In 1974 the wife of South Korea's dictatorial president Park Chung Hee was killed by a bullet intended for her husband; the occasion they were both attending was a celebration of Korea's liberation from Japan at the end of World War II. The assassin was a man named Mun Se-gwang, a Korean who was living in Japan. The South Korean government blamed the Japanese government for the killing, but the Japanese refused to accept responsibility. Japan's press further outraged the Koreans by claiming that Park had brought the tragedy on himself by ruling South Korea with such an iron fist. In response, South Koreans rioted in the streets and attacked the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Finally, with American intervention, the two parties managed to get back on speaking terms. Such was the political climate between Japan and South Korea at the time Watkins first began writing So Far from the Bamboo Grove.
Historic meeting. As Watkins continued working on the novel, the situation between the two nations grew even more tense. In 1979 President Park was assassinated, and General Chun Doo Hwan took over; martial law was imposed in South Korea. Chun rejected his predecessor's almost casual method of dealing with Japan, insisting that South Korea adopt a more formal relationship with its neighbor. The disharmony continued in any case. In 1980, accused of inciting a riot against the government's martial law policy, a South Korean named Kim Dae-jung was condemned to death. Some 10,000 Japanese protested in Tokyo against the South Korean government's actions in the case, once again making it clear that the two nations watched each other very closely and felt deeply affected by events taking place in each other's country. Under international pressure, Chun canceled the order for capital punishment.
In 1982 the Japanese elected Yasuhiro Nakasone as prime minister. Nakasone took the business of rapprochement with South Korea very seriously. He flew to Seoul, South Korea, with a pledge of $4 billion in loans and aid for the republic, and President Chun returned the honor, becoming the first Korean head of state to travel to Japan for nearly a thousand years. There were spirited demonstrations in both Seoul and Tokyo in protest of the meeting. But Chun got what Koreans had long desired, an apology (albeit a vaguely worded one) from both the Japanese emperor and prime minister.
The textbook controversy. In 1982 just as South Korea and Japan were negotiating a tricky series of loans, a serious cultural crisis erupted. In Japan, school textbooks were subject to approval by the education ministry, although they could be written and published by anyone. In the summer of 1982, it became public knowledge that the education ministry was requiring that history be rewritten in an approved way. Korea launched its own investigation into how Japanese-Korean relations were being presented to Japanese students and found to its horror that the schoolbooks had been revised to soften the terrors of Japanese occupation. Instead of telling pupils that the occupational forces of Japan had outlawed the use of the Korean language among Koreans, the books now read "Korean and Japanese languages were used simultaneously"; in the texts Koreans were only "encouraged" to worship at Shinto shrines, whereas in real life they had been forced to do so (Lee, p. 145). The Koreans saw this as yet another instance of the Japanese refusing to accept responsibility for their wartime behavior. There was an international outcry over such rewriting that caused much confusion in Japan's government.
A poll discovered that the majority of Japan's people thought their nation should accept more responsibility for what had happened. It is within this context of responsible remembering that Yoko Kawashima Watkins, a Japanese American, wrote her book based on what really happened between Japanese and Korean people in the aftermath of World War II, recalling not only brutality but also unexpected kindness on the part of Koreans her family encountered.
Reception. So Far from the Bamboo Grove won praise in the Horn Book as "an admirably told and absorbing first novel" (Twichell in Mooney, p. 1952). In School Library Journal, another critic commended Watkins for recounting her story "with a simple directness which has no trace of sensationalism yet in no way diminishes [its] horror" (Sherman in Mooney, p. 1952). The critic further maintained that parallels could be drawn to survival stories such as Esther Hatuzig's The Endless Steppe (also covered in Literature and Its Times), insisting that So Far from the Bamboo Grove deserves to be grouped among the finest of such stories.
After the publication of So Far from the Bamboo Grove in 1986, Watkins was invited to lecture at institutions across the United States as well as in London and Kyoto. A friend of hers warned the author that she was competing with other writers. But Watkins had a different view. "I competed with life and death when young," she said. "And I won" (Watkins in Mooney, p. 1953).
by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written
The Novel in Focus
Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place
Korea under Japanese rule: 1910-1945. Korea is a peninsula stretching from mainland China and Manchuria toward the islands of Japan. For centuries Japanese emperors regarded Korea as a foothold for expansion into Asia. In 1904, when fighting broke out between Russia and Japan for control of Korea and Manchuria, Japanese troops overran Korea. The powerful Japanese army forced the Korean emperor to sign a treaty of alliance with Japan. By 1907 Japanese ministers controlled many branches of the Korean government, and in 1910 Korea was annexed to the Japanese empire.
Under Japanese rule Koreans were deprived of virtually all political clout. A governor general, appointed by the Japanese emperor and backed by a strong military police, maintained firm control. Although advisory councils were formed to check the power of the governor general, the Japanese allowed only wealthy Koreans to vote for council members. The Japanese residents in Korea, although they comprised only 2 percent of the population, ended up electing 64 percent of the candidates. In 1943 only about a tenth of the total number of high-ranking members of the government were actually Korean, and they earned far less than comparable Japanese officials.
Knowing that such overt oppression and discrimination were likely to fuel unrest, the Japanese hoped to promote support for their government by inculcating a new Japanese identity in the Korean populace. All subjects in the schools for Korean children, except the Korean language itself, were taught in Japanese. In 1937 the authorities even dropped Korean language classes from the curriculum and forbade students from speaking Korean. Confucianism and Buddhism, religions popular among Koreans, were banned, and observance of Shintoism, a Japanese religion, was enforced. An edict in 1940 required all Koreans to adopt Japanese surnames. As the fighting between Japan and the United States escalated during World War II, the Japanese forced Koreans to enlist in the Japanese army.
Reprisals against the Japanese in northern Korea. Such policies naturally created animosity among Koreans against their Japanese occupiers. In 1944 and 1945, as it became clear that Japan was on the losing side in World War II, some Koreans vented their pent-up hatred for the Japanese government on Japanese military personnel and civilians. Crowds of Koreans, who had gathered to celebrate their imminent liberation from Japanese forces, often turned into angry mobs, plundering stores owned by Japanese, and even raping and killing Japanese civilians. Korean students formed organizations, the most prominent of which was the Peace and Security Band. Rather than help authorities maintain peace, these groups expelled the Japanese from their own homes and stores. According to one scholar, "nationalism in Korea began... as 'anti-Japanism'" (Nahm, p. 46).
In 1945, after Japan's surrender, Soviet and American troops dismantled the defeated Japanese army and divided Korea at the thirty-eighth parallel. While American troops in the south struggled to preserve the precarious peace, Soviet forces in the north did little to discourage vengeful Koreans. Indeed the Soviets legalized the expulsion of Japanese from their homes. Japanese homes were requisitioned for the Soviet military while Japanese families were crowded into warehouses and schools. Some 66,000 Japanese soldiers and 3,500 Japanese civilians were sent from Korea to Soviet labor camps in Manchuria and Siberia.
Rumors of violence in northern Korea and Manchuria alarmed the Japanese government. Reports from refugees living in the North described incidents of looting and assault "and many attacks on women which... had caused many Japanese girls to commit suicide" (McWilliams, p. 39). Repatriates who survived flight from Korea mentioned that girls in the refugee camps shaved their heads and wore men's clothing to avoid being molested or raped. The Japanese government beseeched the chief of U.S. occupation forces, General Douglas MacArthur, to intervene. "In Manchuria and North Korea," the Japanese government reported, "disarmed Japanese forces and civilians are being made victims of illegitimate firing, looting, acts of violence, rape, and other outrages" (McWilliams, p. 39). The U.S. military mission in Moscow appealed to the Soviet army to cease these acts of violence. Soviet officials not only ignored these entreaties, but also rejected a request from Tokyo to distribute rice and money among the Japanese refugees in northern Korea.
Repatriation of Japanese from southern Korea. Under the terms of the Potsdam Proclamation (Japan's final surrender to the Allies), the American government assumed the responsibility of demobilizing and repatriating Japanese military forces in Korea south of the thirty-eighth parallel. General MacArthur deemed it prudent to repatriate Japanese civilians from Korea as well, both to maintain order and to save destitute refugees from vengeful Koreans. There were approximately 240,000 Japanese military personnel in Korea and over 700,000 Japanese civilians, in addition to the stream of Japanese refugees pouring into northern Korea from Manchuria.
The American forces commandeered approximately 170 Japanese naval and merchant ships to supplement the 197 American ships allotted for repatriation. Trains within Korea transported Japanese refugees from the larger cities-especially the capital, Seoul-to Pusan, a port city lying on the Sea of Japan, which separates Japan and Korea. Meanwhile, demobilized soldiers prepared the port cities of Hakata, Sasebo, Kure, Senzaki, and Maizuru in Japan to receive 5,000 to 8,000 refugees each day. Japanese personnel, aided by a small staff of American soldiers, operated reception centers where incoming refugees were disinfected with DDT, given inoculations, and sent further inland to their hometowns. The incoming repatriates were usually given train fare and rations and sent home within forty-eight hours of their arrival in Japan. They would leave their names at Refugee Centers established to help reunite families.
The American forces by no means succeeded in preventing or eliminating all violence against the Japanese. In southern Korea, as in the North, angry Koreans vented their rage on the Japanese military and civilians alike, driving families from their homes and raping Japanese women and girls. Both the efficiency of the repatriation effort, however, and the efforts of American forces helped reestablish relative peace. By March 1946, less than a year after the repatriation began, over 779,000 Japanese had been evacuated from Korea to Japan.
Exodus of Japanese from northern Korea. At the end of World War II, when authorities of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to divide Korea along the thirty-eighth parallel, they did not realize that what was intended merely as a temporary boundary between two zones of occupation would become a permanent political border. Disagreements between the Soviets in what would soon become communist North Korea, and Americans in what developed into the democratic republic of South Korea, prevented the reunification of the country. While the Americans suggested free democratic elections, the Soviets would only recognize the legitimacy of certain political parties. The impasse on this issue thwarted cooperation on the smaller question of the repatriation of the Japanese.
During the winter of 1945-46, while the Americans and Soviets squabbled over reunification proposals, the Japanese in northern Korea suffered terrible privations. Driven from their homes with only the few belongings they could carry, many died of starvation and disease. Contagious illnesses such as typhoid ravaged the populations of overcrowded refugee camps. A survivor from the city of Wonsan in northern Korea estimated that of the 30,000 Japanese refugees in Wonsan, 30 to 40 died each day. Another survivor reported that the 50,000 refugees in the city of Pyongyang received no food rations and that about 10,000 of them died of starvation and illnesses caused by malnutrition.
Apart from deporting disarmed Japanese troops as prisoners of war, the Soviets had no set policy to deal with the Japanese in Korea's North. Conflicting reports indicate that, on the one hand, Soviet authorities often detained Japanese refugees attempting to cross the border into the South, and on the other hand, they sometimes encouraged the Japanese to flee. Indeed the Soviets may have been glad to let the American forces deal with the troublesome task of shipping these unwanted refugees back to their homeland.
Many Japanese had in fact fled northern Korea by train for Seoul even before the war ended. Later, in the winter of 1946, a mass exodus of Japanese refugees began. By May more than 72,000 refugees had flooded into southern Korea. A large number of them came by water. Lucky refugees found passage on freight ships, while others piled into small boats to sail along the coast to Pusan. The least fortunate of the refugees had journeyed sometimes more than 300 miles on foot to the thirty-eighth parallel. Their numbers kept mounting. By December the American forces in the south of Korea had returned to Japan some 272,000 Japanese from northern Korea. The task would continue in 194,7 and 1948. Within three years of the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces, 914,000 of the 940,000 Japanese in Korea had been repatriated. As Korea became the first battleground in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, Japan withdrew from global conflicts to repair its war-torn economy.